How stylish are you?

Woman applying lipstick

How do you name your style sheets, those of you who bother to use them at all? Below are some of the most common style names I use for book work, which are cribbed from various sources. I use these same abbreviations to key manuscripts on those rare occasions when I’m copyediting text for someone else to typeset.

Warning: This is supernerdy. Do not click “more” unless you are prepared to be bored out of your skull.

General principles

  • Names are case sensitive: paragraph styles in caps, character styles in lowercase. This makes them easier to distinguish at a glance, when using Quick Apply (or whatever it’s called) in InDesign, or when working with XpressTags.
  • Names are as short as possible, again, to make them easy to call up using Quick Apply, but also because when I’m styling text in Word, it’s sometimes faster to type the style name in the style selection box rather than to click it on a menu. Word will not jump to the nearest style on the list; you must type the whole name.

Paragraph styles

Text, no indent. This is usually the style on which I base everything else.
Text. TNI with whatever my first-line indent is, usually 1p or 1p6.
Text with or without a first-line indent, with a one-line space before or after, used around distinct elements such as block quotes. This is sort of a little-endian, big-endian issue, in that some typesetters prefer to include the space in the stylesheet for the thing that’s being surrounded, instead. So, instead of TXS->EXTNI->STX, they would have something like TX->SEXTNIS->TX. I used to use the latter method, until a colleague pointed out that it requires many more styles than the former convention.
Extracts, with and without a first-line indent. The same as TNI, but usually with an indent left and right of the same size as the first-line indent on TX. Occasionally I’ll make the extract text a point smaller than the body text or use a different typeface, but usually I think the indents are enough to set these off from the text.
Bulleted list. I like the bullet flush to the margin and the list text indented to match the first-line indent on TX.
A, B, C, D, etc.
Headings, with A being the top level.
Numbered list. Typically cleared for 10s, with a 3pt gutter between numeral or period and the list text.
Footnote. Smaller than body text, usually with ¾ the amount of leading. Numerals are usually cleared for 10s, not superscript, and I prefer not to have a period after the number. Half-point rule above the first note on a page, at whatever length looks good (usually something like 4p).
Endnote. Same as footnotes, more or less.
Chapter number, chapter title. Some books have one or the other; some have both.
The first paragraph of a chapter, which may have a drop cap, small caps for the first few words, or some other embellishment.
Part number, part title. Some books have one or the other; some have both. The top item, whatever it may be, is usually set to begin on the next recto page.
Epigraph. Sometimes these occur only in the front; sometimes they’re on part openers; sometimes they’re on every chapter; may need more than one version (e.g., “P EPI,” “C EPI”).
Epigraph source. Often flush right, spaced even small caps.
TX tight 1, TX tight 2, TX tight 3, TX tight 3 98, TX loose 1, TX loose 2
Variants of TX with different H&Js, for copyfitting. These were essential when I had to work in Quark XPress, because it fits text so stupidly. In InDesign I usually have to make only one tight style, and I loosen paragraphs by forcing a line break; ID cleans up the spacing for me. The “TX tight 3 98” was my way of approximating InDesign’s ability to scale glyphs ever so slightly to fit copy. I’d make a character style that was scaled to 98 percent of the normal width and then attach it to a set of very tight H&Js. Type designers will detest me for this, I’m sure, but this style usually looks better than the “TX tight 3” by itself. Trust me. I have also, in cases of dire copyfitting emergency, created a style called “TX perilously tight.”
Ornament, for section breaks. Typically centered, with a full blank line above and below.
Sidebar text, with or without a first-line indent. Usually a different typeface, e.g., sans serif, and sometimes with different leading. Sidebars do not necessarily appear on the side of the page; they might be in the same text block, but set off with rules or screens or whatever. If possible, I make styles that include the necessary rule or screen (a screen sometimes being effected by using a very wide, screened rule).
Copyright page text.
Verse, and the same with a blank line after. I used to use Jack M. Lyon‘s much more granular method—

  • Poem First NI
  • Poem Middle
  • Poem Middle NI
  • Poem Middle
  • Poem Middle NI
  • Poem End
  • Poem Start NI
  • Poem Middle
  • Poem Middle NI
  • Poem Middle
  • Poem Middle NI
  • Poem Last

Styling the poem in this way allows you to use different leading before the poem, between lines, between stanzas, and after the poem, and it also allows you to adjust the indentation for each kind of line, or even to use no indentation.1

until I decided that it was overkill. Occasionally I will use half-line spaces between stanzas instead of full lines, but since I prefer to keep everything on a grid, this is extremely rare. And unless I’m working with a stack of poems that all have a similar indent scheme (also extremely rare), I use tabs, spaces, and margin adjustments to move lines and words where they need to be. So, sue me.

Character styles

tx it
Italicized body text. I specify that it’s the text italic, because sometimes I’ll also need to set up “ext it,” “ct it,” “pt it,” and the like.
Small caps in body text. Always with a bit of track.
fn ref, en ref
Footnote/endnote reference. The number in the main text that refers the reader to a note. Superscript, lining figs instead of old style if possible.
drop cap
I don’t use these a lot.
For example, the first three words of a chapter, if they’re in a different typeface. Should be “lead-in,” but Quark XPress does some horrible thing to style names that contain hyphens, IIRC. Sometimes I’ll make lead-ins for specific purposes, such as “BL leadin.”
If I’m doing something besides an option-8 for my bulleted list (which I usually am).
tx 98
Body text scaled to 98 percent of normal width. This is a copyfitting hack I used to have to use all the time in Quark, as explained above, under “TX tight 1, etc.”
a, b, c, d, ct, cn, ext, tx, etc.
If I’m working in Quark XPress, everything has its own character style. I don’t allow “Normal”-anything in my Quark documents, even on the pasteboard. Because if I do, XPress drives me abso-fucking-lutely crazy, cascading changes through the whole document when I least expect it. I’m sure Those People who actually like XPress have some other way of preventing such disruptive behavior, but this is what works for me. (Though I find that not using Quark in the first place works even better.)

Those are all the styles I use most often, I believe, but some documents will have many, many, many more; it just depends on the complexity of the text. Except in frontmatter, I create a style for everything. Because why? Because I am profoundly lazy. If there is one thing I hate doing more than mindlessly selecting, clicking, selecting, clicking, selecting, clicking, a hundred times, it’s repeating these motions another hundred times, because I need to change the size or typeface or whatever. So I set up basic styles as soon as I create a new document. To save time, I often use an existing layout as a template, and then just change the typefaces, spacing, and H&Js to suit. Because I use a consistent array of styles, the dependencies between them will nearly always be the same, from book to book, so why set them up from scratch?

So. Anybody have a different method? Care to explain it?


Photo: Woman putting on her lipstick in a park with Union Station behind her, Washington, D.C. [ca. 1943]. From the Library of Congress Flickr collection. No known copyright restrictions.

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  1. From the Editor’s Toolkit manual, “The Typespec Template.” For more on Jack’s and his readers’ methods of coding, see his Editorium Update newsletter issues Styles and Standardization (12/5/02), Standard Style List (12/11/02), and Readers Write about Standard Styles (12/18/02). []

18 thoughts on “How stylish are you?

  1. For the website styling I do these days, we don’t use a lot of styles. The obvious reason for keeping things simple is that we — Big Big Design — are not the only ones using the style sheets. Clients typically take over the sites once we’re finished, and they haven’t the time and attention to learn and remember all the formatting tools.

    But also, on a web page one has less control over the viewed result than in print. Different browsers interpret HTML/XHTML differently — despite the standards that have been agreed upon — and we go crazy trying to make a page appear consistently across browsers and platforms. So the less variability we introduce, the better.

    There’s also a performance hit for every call, slight though it may be. So far we aren’t designing super-high traffic sites so this doesn’t matter. If any of our clients becomes the next though, we’d need to pay even more attention to optimizing, and that would require even greater simplification.

    But back in the days when I wrote computer manuals — before there was a worldwide web! — I made style sheets galore. I opted for descriptive names, rather than short names. Again, I wasn’t the only one using the style sheets, so between me and the other writers we had to be quite clear in naming. We had simpler needs than you do, I think, and the finished products were not beautiful. But they were beautifully written. (I have always been more a writer than a designer.)

    All of that was in my pre-NeXT days though. At NeXT Computer, we had real graphic designers and layout artists on the team. The writers focused on the writing, editors on editing, and then talented people made it look wonderful. This made a big difference in the usefulness of the manuals: They looked fantastic, but more importantly they were easy to understand and use. I expect that the style sheets there were quite complex, but I can’t remember the details.

  2. Yes, it can be a problem when you have to hand off the file to someone else. I’m currently wrestling with this issue in a literary journal for which I do the rough typeset, and then a more skilled person applies some design to it.

    I originally set it up with long, self-explanatory style names, to be nice. But issue by issue, I’ve been shortening them, because it really slows me down having to distinguish “Poem Author,” Poem Title,” “Poem Subtitle,” “Prose Author,” “Prose Title,” etc. in a long list. “VA,” “VT,” “VST,” “PA,” “PT,” and “PST” require far fewer brain cells for me to read.

    For a couple of issues I compromised by coding the text using short names in Word and then remapping them to the long names when I imported it into InDesign, but I still have to do a lot of styling once I get it in the layout, so that didn’t help much.

    Different browsers interpret HTML/XHTML differently — despite the standards that have been agreed upon — and we go crazy trying to make a page appear consistently across browsers and platforms.

    Tell me about it. And I’m sure we’re all on the edges of our seats waiting for the wonderful shiny new IE8 that’s going to uncomply with Web standards in completely different ways than IE6 and IE7 do.

  3. Not nerdy at all, India. Anyone interested in doing this work professionally–in the league where we play for pay, so to speak–will confront this kind of question sooner rather than later.

    A lot of my work is straight layout of books, where I’m provided a template. Almost all of these use the short, pretty much two-letter variety. When I do a book design, one of the first things I do is go thru the manuscript page-by-page checking for each and every individual element in the book for which I’ll have to create a stylesheet in the template.

    I, too, way back, tried to assign one- or two-word titles to my stylesheets that described what they were for. But I pretty quickly went to the two-letter ones. Just took less time, allowing the mercenary I am to crank out an invoice that much sooner.

  4. Yes, the designer not only has to page through the whole book looking for elements that need to be styled, but he or she also sometimes has to correct the copy editor’s style codes, as I did for that book whose comp order I posted a while back.

    Too many copy editors don’t really understand what they’re doing when they code, and they can create some expensive headaches if nobody checks their work. And a lot of production editors don’t get it, either—they don’t understand how granular a design survey sometimes needs to be—so you can’t rely on them to check the markup on a complex book. Only the designer understands what needs to be spec’ed.

    Oh, but wait—a whole lot of book designers have never done typesetting at all, or haven’t done it from other people’s instructions, so they don’t know what the hell they ought to be doing, either.

    I guess that’s why I keep ranting about this.

    Incidentally, when I looked back over that comp order I posted, I spotted a few other styles that aren’t on the list above:

    FMH, BMH: Front- and back-matter heads. Sometimes these are the same as the chapter title treatment (if there are any chapter titles), but I usually make them slightly different.

    RH verso, RH recto: Running heads, left and right. Why create a style sheet for the running heads, which appear only on the master pages? Because usually I have more than one master page, and if I have to change how the running heads look, I don’t want to do it more than once. Also, if I’m recycling my style sheets for a new design, I want to be able to change everything to the new font family without having to search and replace. Here, I can base the RHs on my TNI style, so when I change TNI, the running heads will follow. Another reason is that once the heads can be controlled through a style sheet, you can make changes to them while looking at a live spread with text on it. If you locally style the heads, you can change them only by going to the master pages, where you can’t see what the heads look like in place. In sum, more control.

    DEDI: Dedication. There’s only one dedication, usually, so it doesn’t need to have its own stylesheet, but again, I do this mostly to make my layouts recyclable.

    folio: That’s a page number, to you civilians out there.

    That best-of-the-West book also has AU (author), HN (head note), SD (story dedication), S1 (story first line), SB2 (a second variety of space break), VSIG (verse signature), VHN (verse head note), VORN (verse ornament), and a couple of TOC styles for the contents page.

  5. Those look pretty standard. I remember the first time I saw all of this jazz in abbreviated form; it scared the crap out of me but I found it all pretty self explanatory. What we do here when we design interiors is show the comp setters the first time an element occurs. This pretty much includes all of the front matter, one new chapter, interior illustrations/photographs, etc.

    To comment on the web comments from earlier… IE must be stopped. It’s the bane of my existence.

  6. In Word you can name a style like this:


    and then to apply it just type bq instead of blocquote.

    Use this macro to set cursor focus to style dropdown window:

    Sub MyStyleDropDown() ' from Klaus Linke on newsgroups ' 2003 December 12 ' 'Activates style drop down box ' Dim myCBCB As CommandBarComboBox Set myCBCB = _ CommandBars.FindControl(id:=1732, _ Visible:=True) If myCBCB Is Nothing Then Dialogs(wdDialogFormatStyle).Show Else SendKeys "{ENTER}" myCBCB.SetFocus End If End Sub

  7. Well, aren’t you clever!

    Unfortunately, that macro generates an error in my version of Word (2004 for Mac/11.2):

    Microsoft Visual Basic Run-time error ‘5’: Invalid procedure call or argument.

    According to the help docs, the “SendKeys” procedure is not supported on the Macintosh. Anybody know a workaround?

  8. India, you’re my kind of supernerd. At my first job, I typeset academic journals in (gak) Ventura Publisher, and our electronic publishing manager set us up with with two major classes of stylesheet (6″ x 9″ vs. 8.5″ x 11″), which through deadline-driven evolution the production editors all tricked out with PITA-reducing new tags to make the templates into sleek lowriders. Some of the work was akin to book typesetting, particularly one quarterly psychiatric journal that was nearly all textual. Others ran as many as 50 complex stat-heavy tables. Having highly specialized tags made those both much easier.

    One of the first things I added was a series of text-kern tags similar to yours in effect and descriptive name. All tags were prefaced by a double-digit number (00, 01, 02, etc.) so the first elements on the journal title page came first, (ID/copyright line, volume/issue), followed by article title, author, affiliation, etc., all the way to references, which had a number somewhere in the teens (I’d probably make ’em 99 now). This made it very easy to trade work between desks to assist workflow even after folks had added new styles for specific content.

    The most gnarly sub-lists of custom tags I had were for complex tables and linguistic copy. For the latter, I had to set up two or three running columns of speaker names and dialogue, all indented and tabbed and turned just so, without the benefit of text frames (no such animal in that version of VP). Lots of custom tag creation on the fly. These excerpts were transcriptions of recorded speech, so the text had to be aligned precisely to indicate overlapping utterances. And the tab values weren’t necessarily going to be usable for all transcriptions, because the column widths varied between dialogues due to the different widths of narrator names. And did I mention that VP crashed more frequently than Toonces the Driving Cat? Good times. . . .

  9. Delete the offending line:

    SendKeys "{ENTER}"

    Then after invoking the macro, press down arrow, then type your style name. “Kludgy”

  10. Still no love. Now it’s choking on myCBCB.SetFocus:

    Run-time error ‘-2147483640 (-7FFFFFF8)’: Method ‘SetFocus’ of object ‘CommandBarComboBox’ failed
  11. Since you know what your styles are this will be sufficient.

    Sub input_style() ' ' On Error GoTo Jersey Dim TargetStyle As String TargetStyle = InputBox("Style Name?", "Style Input Box") Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles(TargetStyle) Exit Sub Jersey: StatusBar = "There was an error." End Sub

  12. Oh, and there’s ctrl + shift + s should work on mac as cmd + shift + s Under all commands, this is “Style”

  13. I was struck by how similar your standard styles are to html tags (except for the finicky letterspacing ones). I do web and print design. While I can remember html tags, my print style sheets tend to be long and descriptive. Perhaps I should use html tag names.

    You do most of your heavy text laundering in Word prior to importing into a page layout program? I have a hatred of Word, something akin to the passion Internet Explorer evokes, and spend quite a bit of time reinventing search and replace moves for each project in the page layout program.

  14. Yes, I used to use codes that were even closer to HTML, but when you’re sharing files with other people who don’t know those conventions, they can be difficult to justify—why UL instead of BL, or OL instead of NL? The author or copy editor may consider whether a list should be ordered or unordered, but the typesetter wants to know whether it needs a bullet or a number in front. And a style called P simply doesn’t tell you enough. What kind of P?

    I do my text laundering in Word because I have tools that do it well. Eventually, since the newer versions of Word no longer support those tools, the macros I rely upon may be adapted to open source word processors, or vice versa. (In an e-mail exchange that I don’t have handy, Jack Lyon told me that one of the popular open source word processors is supposedly going to add MS Word macro compatibility; if that happens, he may tweak ETK to work with them.) If that happens, I’ll gladly switch. I don’t anticipate ever buying a newer version of Word, since it’s no longer as flexible as I need it to be.

    It seems like I would hate Word, since it’s a piece of crap in many ways, and since most other MS products drive me up the wall. (Most of the computers in my office run Windows, and they’re constantly breaking in horrible ways. I refused to use Internet Explorer even eight or nine years ago, when I was a loyal PC user.) But I’ve stuck with it because I know how to get Word to do nearly all of what I want and very little of what I don’t want (disabling most of the AutoCorrect options is key). The feature in versions since about 2003 whereby you can select all text that’s styled like whatever is under your cursor, whether it has a style sheet applied to it or not, is immensely useful. Sure, I could do the same thing with search-and-replace, but I’d have to set the parameters by hand. Being able to just click a button on the formatting palette saves me a lot of tedious thinking and clicking.

    And, finally, some publishers rely heavily on the Track Changes feature, and as far as I know, none of the open source word processors are compatible with that markup.

    I’m never averse to using whatever’s the best tool for the job*, and I swap applications a lot, even if it’s just to do a single task. Right now I’ve got Firefox and Safari and Opera open, with different kinds of work going on in each. Also, Coda and TextWrangler, and sometimes Photoshop and Graphic Converter. Before InDesign radically improved its Word/RTF import interface (version CS?), and before my office acquired the XTags plugin for InDesign, I used to style manuscripts in Word, use QuarkConverter to turn them into tagged text files, import them into Quark 4, and then convert the .qxd to InDesign. It was ridiculous, but it was the best way to get properly styled text into InDesign at the time. When people sent me a file in Quark 6 that I wanted to redo in InDesign, I’d use 6 to save it down to Quark 5, 5 to save it down to 4, and then import it into InDesign. Converting files from Quark 6 to 4 is the only use I’ve ever found for the execrable Quark 5, but I’d always keep it around, just for that.

    • Among whatever tools I already have available. There may be some more perfect piece of software out there, but I’m a habitual cheapskate, and I usually work for even more parsimonious companies.
  15. Welcome. And to answer this posting’s question, I have 2 styles for the footnote dividers. Word’s lines are too heavy, so I use paragraph border (bottom only) & appropriate spacing.

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